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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The first air operation of the war carried out in New Zealand waters was a search by aircraft of the Auckland GR Squadron in the latter part of September 1939 for an enemy submarine. The search was fruitless, but as a result of the alarm standard patrols were organised, and shipping entering and leaving Auckland was thereafter given air cover.

Early in January 1940 the first New Zealand troop convoy left for overseas. There were six liners in the convoy, escorted by the battleship Ramillies and the cruisers Canberra and Leander. For a week before they left Wellington and Lyttelton, the RNZAF carried out patrols to a 50-mile radius of the two ports to search for possible enemy activity. To assist in the operations covering the approaches to Wellington, the Auckland Squadron was moved temporarily from Whenuapai to Ohakea.

Operations of the German raider Orion and her attendant ships in New Zealand waters in the second half of 1940 emphasised the need for long-range reconnaissance aircraft. On the night of 13 June the raider mined the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf, and by daylight had retired out of the range of the aircraft then available. Less than a week later the SS Niagara, bound from Auckland for Vancouver, struck two mines and sank between Bream Head and Moko Hinau.

In August the Orion sank the Turakina some 400 miles west of Cape Egmont. Patrols of the area were made by TEA flying boats, and by De Havilland Dragon aircraft from the Observers' School at Ohakea. In addition, a flight of three Vincents from Ohakea was sent to the aerodrome at Waipapakauri in North Auckland and operated from there for some days, but again the raider escaped with- page 70 out being attacked. Some months later, in November, she returned to New Zealand waters accompanied by two other vessels and sank two ships, the Holmwood and the Rangitane. Again both sinkings occurred outside the effective range of any service aircraft. A flight of Vincents was sent to operate from Gisborne, the nearest aerodrome to the point where the Rangitane was sunk, but with their limited range the aircraft could not reach the area. Searches were also made by TEA flying boats, one of which was seen by the raider (but did not see it) 500 miles from the New Zealand coast.

Although these incidents showed how weak the RNZAF was to cope with raiders, nothing could be done at the time to improve the position. The British Admiralty recommended the diversion of six Hudsons to New Zealand, but all available aircraft were needed in the more active theatres of war. To give full protection to shipping in New Zealand waters, a small striking force as well as reconnaissance aircraft would have been necessary, and the machines just could not be spared. The risks involved in carrying on with obsolescent aircraft had to be balanced against the urgent needs of other theatres, and the diversion of modern aircraft to New Zealand would not have been justified.